Frugal Living 

What to Buy (What to Skip) at Dollar Stores

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Dollar StoresSome people swear by dollar stores and try to do most of their shopping there; others never step foot in the dollar store because they are convinced everything there must be cheap and poorly made. There is truth in both of these opinions. Some things you can buy at dollar stores are great deals, and others should be avoid at all costs.

What to Buy at Dollar Stores

Spices. Spices at a typical grocery store can run $4 to $8 per small jar. The dollar store, on the other hand, offers them for a dollar. True, they may not have an extensive collection, but they are likely to have the basic pantry spices such as cinnamon, chili powder, basil, oregano, and salt and pepper, among others. While they may be a little dated, which affects their freshness, it’s usually still worth it. Just use a little extra.

Greeting cards. Greeting cards can cost upwards of $6 at card and grocery stores. I was expecting the dollar store to sell cards for, well, a dollar, but they actually sell them for $0.50 each. If you send out 20 cards a year, you can save up to $100 just by buying your greeting cards at the dollar store.

Socks. Most packs of socks cost $7 to $11, but the dollar store sells them for $1! How can you beat that? If you have a family to buy socks for, this can again add up to a substantial savings. Considering how quickly our socks wear out or get lost, I now only buy our socks at the dollar store.

Coloring books. Save a dollar or more by buying kids’ coloring and activity books at the dollar store. This summer I bought some workbooks for each of my kids, and they got several hours of use from them. These also make great stocking stuffers for small children.

Seasonal items. Our local dollar store already has Halloween (and Christmas!) decorations out. Because each decoration is only a dollar, you could decorate most of your house for only $10 to $20. If you are gentle with the decorations, you can store them for next year and stretch your money even further.

Party supplies. Buying invitations and decorations such as streamers, confetti, napkins, cups and other items for a party can add up quickly, unless you shop at the dollar store. Considering most party decorations are used once and only once, the quality doesn’t really matter, and you can save a lot of money.

What to Skip at Dollar Stores

Toys. I have a friend who buys many toys at the dollar store. Not only are they cheaply made and break quickly, but I worry about the standards, especially when the toys are plastic. Our babysitter bought my daughter a tiara at a dollar store, and within just a few minutes of wearing it my daughter had little silver flakes all over her face. Even after washing her face, I couldn’t get all of the flakes off.

Food. Some food is okay if you don’t mind eating it right away, but the majority of the food items are close to the expiration date. Of course, I am a bit uptight about the freshness of my food, so this may not be an issue for some people.

Paper products.  The paper towel often comes with a large separation between perforations, so you use up the paper towel more quickly (and use more than you may need). In addition, the paper products are often just one ply and not durable.

Oven mitts and dish towels. Often, the oven mitts are poorly insulated, providing your hands with little protection when removing hot items from the oven. The towels can also be thin and wear out quickly.

Certainly there are good deals to be had at dollar stores such as socks and greeting cards, but there are also poorly made items that you should avoid. Shopping selectively and you can reap greater savings without compromising standards.

What are your favorite items to buy at the dollar store? What items do you avoid?

(Photo: diaper)

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “What to Buy (What to Skip) at Dollar Stores”

  1. Matt M says:

    Batteries at dollar stores are also something to skip, they have a lot less power.

  2. Lei Lani says:

    I buy the Sunday paper at the Dollar Tree (normal retail price is $2.00). Our Dollar Tree stores also have a small frozen food section, and SOME of the selection is very well priced (other items are smaller packages for $1.00). The snack-type foods are also a good bargain (fudge-striped cookies, $1.00 at the Tree and $2.49 at grocery stores, same package, same size). Occasionally our Dollar Tree will have solar lights for $1.00 (the same brand that Target sells for $1.99)

  3. SLS says:

    I’ve had really good luck with food at many of he 99 cent and Dollar stores I’ve bought at. The food is not usually near its expiration date and I can often find name brand or very similar products for much less than I would pay at my regular grocery sore. Obviously, YMMV.

  4. Yana says:

    While I’m not a fan of dollar stores, I have recently gone there on a couple of occasions – and it is the need for reading glasses that got me there. People had told me that the dollar store was the place they bought theirs, and after I found a pair elsewhere that I liked for $25, I decided not to get those and instead listen to what I’d been told. I bought the two pair that they had in my strength, and then went back the next week to get greeting cards. I guess it is okay if you want a specific item, but I’ve always had the idea that people go there and buy a bunch of junk because it’s “only” a dollar.

  5. Scott says:

    On a side note, Dollar Tree stock has multiplied about 10 times since the recession started.

  6. Martha says:

    I love to buy wrapping paper and gift bags at the dollar stores. They aren’t as thick of paper but for many gifts it isn’t a big deal, plus it’s thrown in the recycling bin as soon as it’s taken off! 🙂

  7. I disagree on the toys. One way to control my child’s behavior is with a toy. A $1 toy is a lot better than a $20 toy at wal-mart.

  8. ziglet19 says:

    I do always go to the Dollar Tree if I need gift bags or other gift wrapping items. I also buy padded envelopes there.

  9. Fabclimber says:

    I think of McDonalds as a dollar store because I only buy the dollar menu items if I’m on the go somewhere.

  10. Sadie says:

    I shop at Dollar General Store (the Yellow sign). Having signed up with Dollar General Store on-line, I often receive a special coupon $5 to $25 for shopping on a designated day (usually Saturday). Note: Same coupon may be available via store receipt if shopping there prior to the designated day; however I do not enter store daily.

    Main item purchased (with coupon)is canned Purina Mighty Dog Food @ $.60/can less coupon; have never found a short dated can! Coupon goes a long way vs grocery store pricing.

  11. elloo says:

    The plastic containers that come in different sizes are good. I use some in my car to organize all the small stuff that ususally gets lost in the trunk, under the seat, in the console, etc.

  12. Jean Dell says:

    I like to buy paint brushes at the Dollar Tree. They are good for most applications and when I am done, I throw them away, thereby saving the time, water and effort to clean them (and you never really get them completely clean anyway.)

  13. merrel says:

    I love dollar general. Since it is mainly canned goods, they cant be outdated. they carry a southern brand allens canned goods that has excellently seasoned vegetables, and different cabbage, okra and tomatoes which makes great gumbo. pickles and condiments are excellent. I have gotten many pretty comforters there with matching drapes for a third of normal cost. So I am a fan.
    We live in small town, with no clothing stores and I find some perfectly presentable outfits foe 15.00 there.

  14. CP says:

    I would definitely caution folks on the spices. My husband works for the State Health Department as a Manager for Lead Poisoning Prevention in the State. Be careful to check the origins of of the spices, some countries, particularly China, will use lead as a filler (lead apparently has a sweet taste).
    Also, sidewalk chalk, again look again at country of origin. Stay away from China.

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